Spyware is any software that secretly gathers user information through the user’s Internet connection without his or her knowledge, usually for advertising purposes.
Spyware is similar to a Trojan horse in that users unknowingly install the product when they install something else. A common way to become a victim of spyware is to download certain peer-to-peer file swapping products that are available today. Though majority of shareware and freeware applications do not come with spyware.
Aside from the questions of ethics and privacy, spyware steals from the user by using the computer’s memory resources and also by eating bandwidth as it sends information back to the spyware’s home base via the user’s Internet connection.
Once installed, the spyware monitors user activity on the Internet and transmits that information in the background to someone else. Spyware can also gather information about e-mail addresses and even passwords and credit card numbers.
Because spyware exists as independent executable programs, they have the ability to monitor keystrokes, scan files on the hard drive, snoop other applications, such as chat programs or word processors, install other spyware programs, read cookies, change the default home page on the Web browser, consistently relaying this information back to the spyware author who will either use it for advertising/marketing purposes or sell the information to another party.
How to Avoid Spyware and Adware
A lot of unwelcome software ends up on your computer in part because of something you did or did not do. Here’s how to avoid unwanted spyware or adware:
Be selective about what you download to your computer.
Make sure you really need a program before downloading it.
And if you’ve never heard of the software maker, read its website carefully to learn more about the people behind the technology, as well as the technology itself.
Also, watch out for ActiveX, which is a common tool for installing spyware without your knowledge or consent.
You can turn off ActiveX via your browser preferences and you can always turn it back on should a trusted site require it.
Read licensing agreements. It can seem daunting to read these agreements, but to play it safe, don’t just scroll to the bottom and click the “I accept” button when installing freeware. Instead, read each agreement carefully and look for language pertaining to any information-gathering activity, which could mean that you’ll get spyware or adware along with your freebie.
Watch out for anti-spyware scams. The Web is rife with “anti-spyware” tools that do little or nothing to prevent spyware. Some even make it worse. Purveyors of these tools often provide free scans, which almost invariably identify hundreds of spyware programs on your computer. They then immediately ask you to buy their bogus product.
Beware of clickable advertisements. Try to avoid programs–especially freeware–that flash clickable ads. These ads should be a red flag. If you click the ads, it’s possible someone is watching how you respond to them.
How to Remove Spyware and Adware
Whether they pose security risks or performance headaches, it’s clear some types of spyware are more than a nuisance. For example, spyware and adware, working busily in the background, can dominate your computer’s resources, sometimes bringing down your entire system. While a slow machine is annoying for anyone, it’s especially hard on home office users.
Often these programs get installed along with other programs you’ve loaded. Of course, there’s probably some sort of notification within the software’s licensing agreement. However, these agreements tend to be quite long, and most of us don’t read them in their entirety. In a typical scenario, spyware or adware gets bundled with freeware you download from the Internet. While some see this as a fair tradeoff–you get free software, the software-maker gets to observe your habits–others find it deceptive and invasive.
Meanwhile, a lot of unwelcome software makes its way onto your machine as you surf the Web. In many cases, they get you to trigger a download by clicking on a pop-up window or fake dialog box. Some pop-ups contain an “urgent” or enticing message. It might offer a free gift or claim that you need to download software to see a Web page. The window often presents what appears to be a “yes” or “no” choice. In reality, if you click the window, it will download spyware or adware to your computer, so be sure to just close the window.
Unfortunately, spyware and adware aren’t going away any time soon. But you can take control by deciding what gets in, what stays out, and what remains on your computer.